The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
Biff Byford Saxon - Interview
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As one of the pioneers in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal back in the late 70's and early 80's, Saxon has been a staple amongst the classic heavy metal bands that have influenced countless bands after them and still to this day, are creating new music and touring worldwide. The band have released their latest offering "Battering Ram" which some say is some of their best work to date so we caught up with Biff to discuss the new songs and much more.



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Andrew: We should talk about the new album that's just come out, "Battering Ram". A fantastic album! Our editor Mark reviewed it just recently and had nothing but good things to say about it so you guys must be happy with how the songs have turned out.

Biff: Yeah it's been getting great reviews! You never know until it's actually out how people and critics are going to take to it but yeah, it's doing really well. We're really happy.

Andrew: Is that something that you pay much attention to, with the critics and feedback and that kind of thing?

Biff: I think with this album we've been taking notice because it's our 21st album and we think it's one of our best ones in the fact that it's a bit different. So yeah we're looking at the reviews and I don't think we've had a bad one yet! But there's always going to be bad ones though [laughs], but keep our fingers crossed! It's selling pretty well apparently but we won't know until Friday when the results come in but we're all keeping our fingers crossed.

Andrew: [laughs] You mentioned that it's a little bit different and you're right, there's some different stuff on there. Was that the intention when you first started writing these songs, to maybe change a few things a little?

Biff: Well I wanted it to be a bit more focused stylistically, I wanted it to be a bit not so much different styles although one of the tracks is a bit off the wall. But me and the bass player (Nibbs Carter) more or less wrote a lot of the initial guitar riffs so I suppose in that respect it's not quite stylistically different on different songs but it seemed to work pretty well.

Andrew: It seems like you were drawing a lot of inspiration from stories and books like "Queen Of Hearts" from the Lewis Carroll story and even songs like "Devils Footprints" and "Kingdom Of The Cross". Are you an avid reader of books?

Biff: Yeah I like researching stuff, I read a lot of books and see documentaries here and there. I'm just looking for good subject matter all the time and I thought "The Devils Footprint" , I maybe had the idea for a couple of years ago but it didn't really come out in a song until this year. So yeah I'm always looking for good things to write about, I think they don't all have to be about rock n roll. It can be a little bit more statistically a bit sometimes.

Andrew: How do you know a good story is going to make a good song?

Biff: You don't, you have to put the lyrics and the music together and see if it works. And sometimes it doesn't work and you throw it back in the bin and get it out again later. So for example "Battering Ram", I had the lyrics for "Battering Ram" on a different song but that song wasn't working so I moved the lyrics to another song so that works really well. I think you have to keep it fairly loose when you are writing songs so you can swap and change a bit.

Andrew: We love the songs "Destroyer" and "Stand Your Ground" as they are riff driven songs and you really captured the old school NWOBHM on these songs. Was that also intentional to do that?

Biff: It wasn't massively intentional, no. I just wanted to write some choruses that were a bit 80's style and those guitar riffs like you say, are great riffs. They're memorable riffs so it's just like the 80's. But they all got a modern edge, they all got this overlying modern edge to them so I think it's definitely the album to beat for the other bands.

Andrew: Yeah definitely! And Andy Sneap is the producer on this one, a great producer and great musician. What was it like working with him on this one?

Biff: Well we worked with him a bit on "Sacrifice", he mixed the album. I like working with Andy, it's good fun! We get on really well, we like the same food - hot curries. It was more having fun really doing the vocals, it was good fun actually. Very relaxing time with Andy, he's not really a high pressure producer if you know what I mean. Long hours, lot's of wine, lot's of curries. That's the secret to his producing, he's very relaxed and very good.

Andrew: You've toured with his other band Hell, right?

Biff: His band Hell, we did yeah.

Andrew: And you just came off a tour with Motorhead in the U.S. just recently.

Biff: Yeah we did. We did America starting with Judas Priest in May-June and then jumped onto Motorhead so we've had some good tours in America this year.

Andrew: Is the U.S. market hard to crack for you guys?

Biff: I think all markets are hard to crack really, it's just a lot of luck involved. It's a bit like Australia, it's not a huge market but I don't think we've ever really cracked Australia or New Zealand. In Japan we're pretty big but I think this is the most interviews I've done with Australia in quite a while [laughs]. I mean it's a strange thing where one country likes [us] and another country doesn't, I think a lot of it has to do with the media and how people perceive you to be. We have a lot of fans down there, we just like to come there and play for them really. That's what we should do, I think with rock bands, the albums and the touring go together.

Andrew: Absolutely and you mentioned about coming to Australia, we would love to see you here. I think you were supposed to come last year but it was cancelled at the last minute?

Biff: Yeah we were working on the album and the record company were getting pretty mad with us so we had to stay and finish it, a couple of years ago I think for Soundwave Festival. But we apologised profusely, I don't think they forgave us easily but it would be nice to come back there now. I'll say sorry again, sorry for doing that!

Andrew: That's OK! So when was the last time you were in Australia?

Biff: We did a club tour on our way to Japan, probably the year before. 2006 maybe? 2008, something like that. It wasn't very widely publicised so I think a lot of people didn't know about it. It was OK, it was a great tour . We flew in from Japan into Brisbane and then we flew out of Sydney to Argentina so it was a bit of a whistle stop tour. But we enjoyed it, it was great.

Andrew: Well it would be great to see you come back again hopefully soon. When you spoke to us last year, you mentioned working on a solo album. Is that coming along?

Biff: Yeah it's coming along, I just finished two songs off that album for the new Saxon album so it's put me back a bit [laughs]. So I'll get back to that when I get a bit more time, it's difficult sometimes to find the time because we're very busy so that's the problem.

Andrew: And how are the songs differing from Saxon? Are they similar or very different?

Biff: Well one of the songs was "Kingdom Of The Cross" which is on the new album and the other song was "Battering Ram" so there you go [laughs].

Andrew: [laughs] What made you decide to put them on the Saxon album instead of keeping it for your solo album?

Biff: Well we were just short of a couple of good songs so I thought, oh well, we'll move it across and see what happens. It worked out pretty well.

Andrew: OK well Saxon is known for their loyal fans and it's coming up to 40 years now. What does it mean to be around for so long and what keeps you going these days?

Biff: Well first album came out in '79 so I suppose we're not celebrating 40 years, we'll be celebrating 40 years in 2019. But it's great to be around for so long and still have lots of fans that are still dedicated and loyal to the band really and obviously we are picking up new fans all the time. It's a great job, what can I say.

Andrew: You must see a lot of generations at your live shows from kids to the older fans.

Biff: Yeah definitely!

Andrew: That must be a very cool experience.

Biff: Yeah it is a good experience. I think Saxon, Maiden, Motorhead, Priest, we all have the younger audience there as well because of our heritage from the 80's. People are interested and obviously all those bands are still here so the more you're in magazines and the more your albums sell, then obviously the younger audience are going to become more involved which I think is a good thing.

Andrew: Do you feel Saxon is in a better place now than it has been in a long time?

Biff: Yeah I think musically we are in a good place at the moment. I think we've struck a little bit of a golden sea with this one so hopefully we can carry on with this for quite a while but yeah, we're in a good place at the moment I think.

Andrew: That's good to hear. Bands come and go and Saxon has just been around for such a long time so it's a good thing to see. What have you got planned for the rest of the year and next year as far as touring?

Biff: We're touring with Motorhead in Europe in November, December, January, February and then we might go back to the States again in the early part of the year. It would be nice to come to Australia actually, I know there's a festival happening around January/February so it would be good to get in that if we could if we're free, so fingers crossed really. Then we're doing festivals through the summer and then maybe do a headline tour for "Battering Ram" perhaps.

Andrew: OK cool. As I said we would love to see you come back to Australia, it's been a pleasure talking to you and congratulations on the new album. Thanks for your time today!

Biff: Thank you very much! It would be great to come back down there and play "Battering Ram" for our fans downunder!

Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on October 20th 2015